Visualization is one of the most powerful techniques that you can use to improve your life.
It's a method for orienting your mind towards whatever you want to get, motivating yourself to take action right away.
You might think it's just about imagining stuff, but it's actually a lot more nuanced. Thousands of people all over the world use a variety of visualization methods for getting themselves amped up and ready to rock, and what works for one person might be totally different for someone else.
Below, we'll explore what this visualization is all about, how you can get the most out of it, and six different techniques that you can use right now to start picturing your success - and achieving it.
Visualization is a mental technique that involves imagining yourself in a certain situation to help yourself actually get there in real life.
It helps you reduce anxiety, make progress towards achieving your goals, and achieve mental clarity so you can make smart decisions.
There are various techniques for visualization out there, and they all have different optimal use cases. If you've got a particular issue you want to use them on, it's worth trying each one to see what works best for you.
For the most effective visualizations, the most important thing to do before you get started is to figure out what you want first.
It's easy to idly daydream about a perfect future, a long time from now, while thinking to yourself "I can't wait til things are better".
But that won't do you much good in terms of actually reaching that future.
So for this to work best for you, you need to get really specific. This doesn't mean you have to over-think things, but it's a key step for making it worth the effort.
Here's an example of someone who wants to change their living situation.
"I want to live in a nice house in the countryside" - this isn't specific enough. It's not a SMART goal so you're unlikely to really fight for it.
"I want to live in a nice three-bedroom house in the Oxford countryside in 5 years' time. The approximate price will be X. My financial situation is X. The three most important things I need to achieve this are X. The first action I'll take is X, starting on Monday." - This, in contrast, is much more useful.
It's still an ambitious, long-term goal that doesn't have all the details mapped out yet. That's fine. The important thing is that you can see your progress towards it over time. (Here are more tips on how to make a 5-year plan.)
For more help in setting and achieving realistic goals, check out our Goal Catcher coaching program. In just two 5-15 minute sessions each week over 8 weeks, you'll learn how to set realistic goals and follow through on them. You'll gain a sense of meaning and purpose that you can use to set grander ambitions, but also strengthen your resolve in turning up when it's time to work and get things done. It starts with visualizing what you want - then it's time to make it happen.
Once your goals are more specific, you'll start to see visualization as a tool you can repeatedly use to achieve them, rather than just an indulgence you dip into from time to time.
This first visualization technique involves imagining yourself doing the actions needed to achieve your goal, and succeeding.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it's actually very powerful. When you take the time to really visualize yourself doing the work well, repeatedly, it can help to increase your motivation and confidence.
This is the part many people miss out on — but it's the part that embeds a new neural pattern into your brain, mapping those paths to action. Imagining doing the thing contributes to you getting better at it — as long as you actually do the thing too. The mental rehearsal and the execution go hand in hand.
So, if you want that new house in a few years, you could think about hitting those successful milestones along the way - getting that qualification or new job perhaps, or depositing the down payment.
You could go even more granular and imagine having the discipline to fill out job applications or work on really big projects at work to chase that promotion.
Then, think about the joy you feel at having the keys of your new house handed to you, and lazing around in front of the fireplace with your family. That winning feeling is delightful to indulge in - but just for a few moments.
You should try to make your mental image as realistic as possible, including all of the details. For example, if you have a fitness goal in mind, imagine yourself going to the gym and doing a specific workout.
Imagine not just yourself completing the physical actions you want to do, but also feeling accomplished and high on endorphins afterward. (That's one of the best reasons to go, right?)
This is something to do when you've got a moment before going to the gym in the first place, or in the locker room just beforehand. It'll get you fired up with an extra shot of motivation and the things you work on will feel even more familiar. Sports stars have used the power of mental imagery for a long time to help them reach the top of their game.
The second visualization practice is to use affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements that you repeat to yourself over and over again. They help to program your mind for success and can be very effective when used regularly and in conjunction with visualization.
They're different than the first technique because they focus on the present, rather than the future. They're about stating who you are, what you're feeling, and what you're capable of. These help you get into the mindset of a capable, disciplined person who's motivated to actually get things done.
You should choose affirmations that are relevant to your goal, and make sure that they sound believable to you. For example, if you want to build your business, an affirmation might be "I'm committed to growing and providing great value to my customers"; or if you want better health, an affirmation might be "I am now a healthy person who eats, moves and sleeps in healthy ways, every single day."
It's best to say your affirmations out loud, and with feeling. You might also want to write them down and carry them around with you as a reminder. You could even record yourself saying them and play them as you fall asleep.
The important thing is that you make them part of your routine, rather than just do them ad-hoc. Repeating them out loud in front of the mirror, looking yourself in the eyes, just before you leave the house for work, can be a good way to do it. It might feel a little silly if you've never done it before, but you might be surprised how quickly it can make a difference in your life.
The third powerful visualization practice is to create a vision board. A vision board is simply a collection of visual elements, photos, and words that represent your goals and dreams.
When you take even a quick glance at your vision board, it should help to fire up your imagination and motivate you to take action.
If you're building a business, you could plot together some visual imagery of nicely designed offices you'd like to inhabit someday or article clippings of business leaders you admire. If you want that nice house, finding visual representation should be easy - from the house itself to the decor to the surroundings. A quick look at it will remind you of what you're working towards.
Put your vision board somewhere you pass by every day, like in the hallway of your house, or on the back of your bedroom door. But you also need to make time to work on it.
Also, put a note in your calendar to add something to your vision board once a week during your free time. This small, easy action will keep you connected to your board and prevent you from ignoring it and letting it fade into the background.
You can find creative ideas for vision boards all over the internet - it's pretty much what Pinterest was invented for, so that's a good place to start.
Another creative visualization technique is to use totems and rituals - physical trinkets or actions that have special meaning for you.
When you see or do these things, they will remind you of your goal and inspire you to keep moving forward. For example, if you're trying to get fit, you might choose to wear a certain color of clothing for your workout days.
Or you could carry a small token in your pocket that has a link to the goal you want to achieve. If it's that new house you're after, you could buy a new keyring that you're saving for your new house keys. Every time you feel it in your pocket, you'll get back into the mindset of working for that house. (You could put it on your desk at work, but that means you're not so likely to touch it, and it can fade into the background quite easily.)
You could even look at it in a multi-sensory way; your subconscious mind reacts to smells particularly strongly, so you could use a scented candle for the same effect. Or a certain piece of music, or something you can taste. Any sensory detail can trigger the right insight if it has meaning.
The mechanism of these is similar to the vision board - they basically work as reminders.
Interestingly, it doesn't have to be a physical object. It can be an action you perform - a ritual - that might not have any practical use but exists only to get you in the mood. There are all sorts of creative possibilities here, from rubbing your thighs to turning in a circle to eating a certain food. Again, it's something sportspeople are well familiar with for peak performance, and it's typical of public speakers as a visualization technique to reduce anxiety.
To make your rituals stick, you could do them at the same time as your affirmations in the morning. That way, you're getting a double dose of inspiration to start your day.
You could also do them directly before starting work on a project that's particularly important to you. That might be something as simple as sitting down at your desk and taking a few deep breaths before you begin.
There are always going to be roadblocks on the path to success.
Preparing for things going wrong is part of smart goal planning, but people sometimes forget it's a key part of visualization too.
If you think a hurdle might appear that thwarts your progress, don't think about how it might derail your plans. Instead, spend a few minutes imagining how you're going to confront it.
This is a form of what's called "contingency planning," and it's very useful for preparing yourself mentally for different eventualities.
It means you're not going to be taken by surprise if something goes wrong because you've already thought about how you'll deal with it.
You might not be able to control what happens in the world around you, but you can always control your reaction to it. And that's what this visualization technique is all about - getting yourself into the right frame of mind to face anything that comes your way.
There are all sorts of techniques for doing this; some people like to imagine themselves as their favorite superhero smashing through problems, or they might visualize a protective force field around them, shielding them from the challenges of the day.
Others might want to be more practical, seeing themselves doing the actual actions necessary to fix a situation - dealing with an injury by resting up and healing properly, for example.
By going through this sort of visualization, not only will you build mental strength to deal with life's eventualities, but it'll push you to make alternative plans and contingencies to prevent the bad stuff from happening in the first place. Not too bad, right?
The sixth visualization technique is to use meditation. Meditation can be a very effective way to connect with your inner desires and motivations. When you meditate, you are essentially training your mind to focus on what you want rather than what you don't want. This can help you to achieve your goals more easily.
General meditation is a scientifically valid mindfulness exercise for relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving mental health, so we'd certainly recommend it. When it comes to visualization and goal-setting though, it might be best to follow a guided meditation that's more closely aligned to the thing you're trying to achieve.
There are guided meditations available online and on apps like Calm or Headspace, which can be helpful if you're new to meditation. For example, Calm has guided meditations on building confidence at work, boosting your social skills, and preparing for sessions of deep concentration.
It doesn't have to be a spiritual exercise, and you don't have to sit with your legs crossed repeating mantras. Essentially, meditation involves intentionally focusing on your breath and keeping your mind from wandering. If you find your thoughts drifting, simply bring them back to your breath. Or, a guided meditation might ask you to visualize yourself as a calm person who's in control.
By the time you come out of it, you should feel calm, focused, and present - and even if it's frustrating at first, over time, you'll get much better at it.
Meditation can be done anywhere and at any time, so it's easy to fit into your schedule. You can do it first thing in the morning, throughout the day, or even on your commute (on public transport - not while you're driving!)
These are just a few of the visualization techniques that you can use to improve your life. The most important thing is to find the ones that work best for you and stick with them.
Visualization is a powerful tool, and the more you use it, the better results you'll see. So get creative and experiment with different techniques. By practicing all six of the above, you'll end up in a powerful headspace to see what you want and get moving.
Just remember: it's one-half of your "set goals and achieve them" process. What comes after visualizing success? Getting out there and taking action. Good luck!
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